Never feel like you get enough kip? Always yawning at your desk? You’re not alone, writes Sahar Ahmed.
Hands up who’s been making an effort to have a good sleep at the moment, only to wake up every morning and still feel exhausted? With all the stress of 2022 life, it’s hardly surprising. Cast your mind back to the height of the pandemic when we were dealing with lockdowns and lucid dreams: a 2020 study by King’s College London foundthat 52% of women had disrupted sleep during that time. Sleeping more didn’t result in feeling well rested.
Two years on, fear of Covid is still a thing but we’ve got a host of other serious worries to contend with. War in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, a climate emergency… it’s a lot. And at a time when we could do with a good dose of energy to contend with stressful news, we’re in a perpetual state of tiredness, sleep or no sleep. And that raises the question: are we sleeping properly?
Studies suggest that sleep disruption or deprivation can lead to “increased stress responsivity, somatic pain, reduced quality of life, emotional distress, mood disorders, and cognitive, memory, and performance deficits” in healthy adults. Other studies suggest that a lack of good sleep can lead to an increased risk of certain diseases, from diabetes to heart disease, and can even weaken your immune system. Sleeping well is crucial to our health, wellbeing and stress management; if we don’t feel like we’re getting enough of it, that’s a problem.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to improve the quality of our sleep so that we genuinely do wake up feeling refreshed. To find a solution, however, we first have to investigate the root of the issue.
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You’re not taking the time to wind down
Pre-sleep routines may be vital in falling into a restful sleep. According to Brendan Murdock, founder of Anatomē, establishing a bedtime or winding down routine is essential. “This will help your body to bring cortisol levels to normal. The secret to a great night of sleep is being totally relaxed [in] mind and body. And, without this unwinding time for yourself, it’s pretty hard to achieve that,” he adds.
Unwinding before bed consists of personal choices: some may prefer reading a book while others may like to journal. Murdock suggests: “Breathing exercises with essential oils is something we often recommend – it’s simple but effective. Relaxing, warm baths can also help bring your body and mind toa more mindful state.”
Winding down also allows a racing mind to slow down. Often, we’re consuming huge amounts of news and trying to keep up with an incredibly fast-paced world. It can be hard to shut down your brain before sleeping,
You’re staring at a screen way too close to bed-time
By now, you probably know that staring at your phone or doomscrolling your way through TikTok at midnight probably isn’t doing you many favours. According to the Sleep Foundation, back-lit devices like mobiles and iPads emit ‘short-wavelength enriched light’ (aka blue light) that has been shown to delay melatonin production. That’s a problem because melatonin is our sleep hormone; delay that process and you’ll end up staying awake for longer (and potentially sleeping in later).
Murdock also notes that “research shows that most insomniacs and poor sleepers have higher cortisol levels, so it’s important that we try to stabilise our cortisol levels before going to bed”. Disengaging from screen time close to sleeping may be one of the best ways to do so.
You’re worrying about stressful world events
Christopher Paul Jones, Harley Street therapist, tells Stylist: “In this post-pandemic world,it can now feel like we never get enough sleep, even if we are.” He adds that this is a result of our minds being full of uncertainty and anxiety and that we perhaps have a collective sense of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We are experiencing low-grade fight, flight or freeze symptoms on a daily basis as our system is waiting for the next pandemic, the cost of living crisis. We are waiting for bad things to happen.” Jones urges the importance of recognising this and working on changing our thought patterns, interrupting them. In doing so, we may be able to break the thought and fear cycle and give our system a break.
How to improve your sleep quality
It’s worth flagging that if you are struggling to deal with scary news, there’s not much you can really do to change events. But there are plenty of ways you can improve your sleep quality to feel better rested when you wake up.
Try sleep therapy to help keep your sleep and wake-up times constant, think about increasing your water intake as hydration can affect sleep quality and try to include sleep-promoting foods into your meals.
Creating a relaxing pre-sleep routine, one that helps calms anxiety and gets you away from your screens may help too.You might want to check out Stylist’s Sleep Diaries series to find out more about sleeping habits and how to build better patterns.
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Finally, it’s important to remember that you may be trying to break habits built over a long period of time, so being patient with yourself is key to getting where you want to be. Taking stock of your day and giving the time you take to sleep the importance it deserves may be the first step to a sleep quality reset.
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